In its new timeslot (Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern) Chicago Fire is set to begin its brand new season — suffice it to say it’s going to be kicking off in a big way! Season 5 of the series ended with an enormous cliffhanger in “My Miracle,” one where we saw that someone may not be making it out of the factory fire alive. By the end of the premiere, you’ll learn one way or another if someone didn’t make it; from there, you’ll get a chance to see the continuation of the story at Firehouse 51. There are new characters, new storylines, and the signature mix of great character drama with daring rescue scenes.
At the center of everything is co-creator Derek Haas, who is also serving as the sole showrunner for the upcoming sixth season. We recently had a chance to speak with him all about his plans for setting up and resolving the cliffhanger, a new character entering the mix this season, and what sort of themes the show is addressing this time around.
CarterMatt – Now that you’re so far along in the series, how have things changed?
Derek Haas – We always get in the writers room at around early June and start to break the season in halves. We start talking about what we want to do first half-wise, what we want to do second half-wise, and what we want to do thematically. Then we focus in on the characters and what sort of arcs we want to do. None of that’s changed, but we constantly want to top ourselves and reject things that are too similar to what we’ve already done or ideas that other shows have done.
From there, we always try to make the room excited — the best idea wins. That hasn’t changed in six seasons.
What excites you the most then, as a writer in 2017?
Always surprise. If you can surprise someone within a scene, an episode, an arc – that’s what gets me excited. When you pitch an idea and you’ve surprised your writing staff and zig when people think you’re going to zag. If that happens with the writing staff I’m pretty confident that it’s going to happen with the audience when they’re watching it for the first time. You also get actor reactions when they realize something went a different way than what they thought would happen.
It’s always fun to read online the comments and see if we were successful in shocking people or making them laugh. That still gets me excited.
I’m going to try to sidestep the cliffhanger stuff because I know you obviously can’t give anything away. I think the thing I’m more curious about is this — at the time you had the finale written, did you know exactly where that story was going to go and what the aftermath was going to be?
That was decided last year. We conceived it as a two-episode event. One of the things that we always do is consult with our technical advisers Steve Chikerotis and Michele Martinez about the fire of it all and the medical side. How do you handle a situation like this? Once you get those answers, we’re always looking for a different angle than what we’ve done before. Chikerotis, Michael Brandt, and I came up with how that story would play out. We just needed to figure out where to end it for maximum suspense in season 5 to start back during season 6.
I think maximum suspense was achieved based on what I’ve seen online. In terms of a time jump, what are we looking at? I know it’s fairly important for you guys to keep things close to the present.
I don’t think that it’s a secret that we’re going to jump ahead a couple of months. We start the show right where we left off and we’re going to play out the events of that factory fire. Once those events play out and we see the aftermath, we’re going to jump ahead a couple of months. Cruz was suspended for 60 days and we’re going to see the other side of that suspension.
I want to touch on a couple of stories that have been talked about online, including Brett’s childhood friend coming to the city. What’s that character going to be like?
We’ve describe Hope from the inception as a disruptor. We’re always looking for characters, especially at the start a season, to mess with the dynamics and the overall thematic family aspect. We want them to be an external force or an internal force within the house. That’s what she is. She’s from a small town, she’s a little bit of a country girl in the big city for the first time. She looks at Brett’s life personally and professionally and decides that it’s something she might like for herself. Whereas Brett worked really hard to establish these friendships and do her job, Hope is like ‘how can I get that a lot faster? I want these things but I don’t want to work for them.’ That’s Hope’s path.
Dawson’s father is going to be a big part of the story. How are things going to be with that relationship?
When you get to the time jump you’ll see Ramon in a different place than he was at the end of season 5. While he was more dependent on his daughter at the end of this past season when his life was a bit of a shipwreck, now he’s going to return the favor for her. He’s going to be supportive.
When Stella first came on the show I didn’t know how she would interact with various characters, but the Stella – Otis relationship has been really fun. It’s a pleasant surprise. Is that something that built organically based on those actors having chemistry, or were you always intending to build that?
You were right the first time. It’s one of the real joys of doing a 22-episode season and doing it over multiple seasons. We get to evolve the show and write episodes to characters’ strengths and personalities. When Stella came in we had an arc for her that was 4-5 episodes. She knew Dawson from back when they first started together. Then, as we watched her interact with Truck — Herrmann, Mouch, and Otis — and when she interacted with them, even when the cameras aren’t rolling, she’s hilarious. Even in a male-dominated profession she doesn’t shy away from camaraderie.
We really liked her and Otis together, which is why we gave her a job at Molly’s as a manager. The dynamic there is fun and they genuinely have a great bond. We will definitely write towards characters and personalities. I don’t know how you don’t do that for a show that’s been on for this long.
It’s like you said — you guys have a 22-episode show. You get a lot of time to see everything evolve.
Exactly. If you are writing a cable show that is eight episodes long and you have written the scripts ahead of time and hired the actors, you don’t know if actors are going to have chemistry. You don’t know if they will butt heads. With us, we’re basically shooting four episodes ahead. We get to watch the dailies and we get to see them on set. Then, you come back to the writers room and you ask those questions, like ‘why don’t we try this?’
What’s the plan to incorporate Chicago Med into the show, given that they’re not back for a little while and I know you don’t want to address all of their cliffhangers on Chicago Fire.
We knew in the writers’ room that they weren’t going to be coming back [at the start of the season], and they ended with Dr. Charles being shot. We had to look at our first five episodes and say ‘we really can’t use their doctors or nurses.’ They would be commenting on what happened, so we have to stay away from them for the first [part of the season].
But, we also have this character who we’ve used many times on the show in Chaplain Orlovsky who sort of serves the same role as Oliver Platt for our firefighters. They can go to him for counseling or Dr. Charles, so we used Orlovsky in the first episode.
What’s the real objective you’re hoping for people to get out of the season? Do you have a major theme?
Whenever we’re talking about a theme at the start of a season we try to think about something we haven’t done. We always have the theme of family in the firehouse and the fact that you have your firehouse family and your other family — as a matter of fact there’s an episode in season 1 called “Two Families.” We’ve done thematically stories about how the firehouse affect the neighborhood, and we’ve done stories about how this firehouse resides in the greater Chicago Fire Department. When there were some government closings and firehouses were being closed, that was an interesting one.
This year we said ‘why don’t we do a look at how the outside family impacts your firehouse family?’, since we’ve introduced enough characters over five seasons to make it work. How does Donna, Boden’s wife, come into the firehouse and bring about change? What about Dawson’s dad or Cruz’s brother Leon, who had absconded to Florida in order to flee gang violence? He can come back. It was looking at these relationships, and to a lesser extent Hope — she’s not really family, but she is a friend so you’re substituting a little bit for an outside family member. That’s the overall first-half theme. You’ll see it in almost every episode.
More Chicago Fire news
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